If one day I am walking in a garden
and he sees me, I will pretend to be deep
in conversation on the phone
and if – undeterred – he intercepts me
and says ‘Mary!’, I will say
‘Who?’ and screw up my face
as though dazzled, even if it is dark.
In that moment, I may decide to use
a different accent. Perhaps I will pretend
never to have heard of myself, or maybe I will be
my own cousin. He will be disoriented
by the audacity of the pretence, and by its cruelty
(as will I—we both believed I would never deny him)
but he will stand aside and let me pass.
You promised a spectacle. You promised to swan dive
from the castle walls, glide above the forests and disappear
beyond the mountains, but you are a liar.
For many weeks we have been growing impatient,
our hopes raised each time you emerge from your tower
and step toward the battlements as though spellbound,
but every time you seem about to do what you promised,
you flinch and retreat. We’ve tried to keep faith with you,
but we understand now that there is no swan dive in you
at all. We see you for what you are—a liar, a coward,
and above all, a disappointment. The word charlatan
would not be too strong. The word charlatan is not used
enough these days, and what better term for one
who promised what she knew she could never deliver?
After such a disappointment, who could condemn us
if we stormed your castle, climbed up to your tower
with its sturdy defences and all its magnificent views
and forced the charlatan to keep her word? Even then
we would only be taking a fraction of what we are owed.
We accept now that we’ll never see you soar over the forests
or vanish behind the mountains, but at the very least
we can have the swan dive, or something like it.
Mary Ford Neal is a writer and academic from Glasgow, Scotland. She is the author of two recent poetry collections: ‘Relativism’ (Taproot Press, 2022) and ‘Dawning’ (Indigo Dreams, 2021). Her poetry is published/forthcoming in a range of print and online journals, and has received several Pushcart and BOTN nominations.